Cirque Lodge > Blog > Addiction > Prescription Drugs Abuse and Addiction

When prescription drugs are used as directed, they can help many to live healthier, happier lives. But when they are abused, initial feelings of relaxation and euphoria quickly slide to adverse consequences similar to that of illicit street drugs. Prescription drug abuse and addiction come with side effects and risk of overdose, but how does one overcome an addiction?

Luckily, there are effective treatment programs that can help.

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drugs are not always taken as directed by a doctor for the treatment of a medical condition. This includes using medication that is prescribed for someone else, forging prescriptions, crushing and snorting or injecting drugs that were meant to be taken orally, or using prescription medication for achieving a certain effect instead of treating a condition.

Abused for their euphoric effects, to lose weight, or to gain more focus for studying, prescription drug abuse has become a faster-growing drug problem in the US than cocaine, methamphetamines, or heroin.

Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) have been implemented to reduce 'doctor shopping', which is when a person goes to multiple doctors to get many prescriptions for the drug they are abusing. There are also 'pill mills', which are illegal facilities that seem similar to a regular pain clinic, but regularly prescribe painkillers without a sufficient diagnosis, medical history, examination or monitoring, or documentation, in exchange for a bribe.

Prescription drugs are also much easier to obtain than street drugs for young people. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, two-thirds of teens who misused pain relievers say that they got them from family and friends, including their home’s medicine cabinets. At the same time, these drugs are sold on the street like other illegal drugs, and teens and young adults can easily buy them.

Prescription drug misuse comes with a range of side effects that are dangerous enough to affect almost every aspect of a person's life. Despite the belief that they are generally safe since they are prescribed by healthcare providers, they carry the same risks that illicit street drugs do. Addiction to prescription medication can make a person take the drugs despite all the negative and dangerous risks and side effects.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

There are different classes of medicines that are typically abused. Opioids or narcotics, also known as painkillers are intended for treating pain, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports 9.3 million people in the US abused prescription pain relievers in 2020.

Stimulants are usually prescribed by health care providers to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy and increase alertness, energy, or attention.

Another category includes medication intended to treat sleep disorders, anxiety, tension, or panic attacks, called central nervous system depressants. These slow down brain activity, and include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics.

What Are the Risks of Prescription Drug Abuse?

What Are the Risks of Prescription Drug Abuse?

There are many dangers associated with prescription drug abuse, but the most prevalent one is developing an addiction to the medication. Addiction also means continued use of the drug, causing harm to bodily systems over time. Additional risks of prescription drug misuse appear when a person uses medications that were prescribed for someone else, or when they combine them with other prescription medications, drugs, or alcohol.

Effects on the Body and Mind

Each drug affects the body and the mind differently, but there are some general harms caused by prescription drug abuse. Damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver is common, while cognitive effects include impaired memory or learning abilities. Mental health may decline, or mental health issues like anxiety or depression may increase.

There are physical risks that can have serious medical consequences, and similar to most drug abuse, there is always the issue of the right dose. High doses of prescription medications place a person at a high risk of overdose. Combining drugs, including mixing them with recreational drugs or the consumption of alcohol dramatically increases the chances of overdose.

Effects of abusing prescription opioids

This category of medicines can cause depression, confusion, constipation, excessive sweating, and a slowed breathing respiration rate. Opioid pain relievers intended to treat pain can cause low blood pressure, and even potentially stop breathing and lead to coma and death when abused.

Effects of Stimulant abuse

Too much of a stimulant can cause a dangerously high body temperature and can also lead to an irregular heartbeat. Weight loss, appetite suppression, aggression, and paranoia are common side effects of stimulants, while ADHA medicines may lead to seizures or heart failure.

Effects of CNS depressant abuse

Medications intended to treat anxiety or sleep disorders comes with a possibility of memory issues. It can cause drowsiness, unsteady gait, dizziness and confusion, involuntary tics, and excessive sleepiness. It also comes with danger when a user attempts to stop the drug. Abruptly reducing prescription drug abuse, such as sedatives, can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which include nervous system hyperactivity and seizures. When CNS depressants are mixed with painkillers, cold medicines, or alcohol, a person's heart, and breathing rate can severely slow down, and this could lead to death.

Higher Risk of Addiction

Repeated exposure to drugs can lead to addiction. The substances within prescription drugs are addictive and powerful enough to cause both physical dependence and psychological dependence. Even without consciously abusing the drug, an addiction can develop, such as when a doctor prescribes painkillers for a person who has undergone surgery and they have to take the medication over a long period.

Addiction to prescription drugs is not much different from illicit drug addiction, in that a person will similarly have cravings for the drug. The body will respond to its long-term use by building up a tolerance and needing higher doses to get the same effects, and withdrawal symptoms will appear when cutting back on the drug.

Dangerous Behavior

The effects of prescription drug misuse include danger to the person taking the medication and to those around them. A person handling machinery or driving when they are drowsy, dizzy, or confused could cause injury or car accidents.

Similar to most substance abuse, prescription drug misuse also places a person at an increased risk for criminal activity, as poor judgment is a side effect. They may engage in behavior such as stealing others' prescriptions, forging prescriptions, or lying to others to obtain them. Addiction could cause them to attempt to buy drugs on the street, which may place them in risky situations.

Risk of Overdose Deaths

Prescription drug misuse and addiction can lead to overdose as easily as illegal drugs can. The danger increases when prescription medications are abused alongside other substances or alcohol.

Around 12,000 people died from an overdose involving benzodiazepines in 2020, a CNS depressant. But prescription painkillers or opioid analgesics have the most prevalence in drug overdose deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number rose from 14000 in 2019 to 16,000 deaths in 2020 in the US.

It is always advised that a person struggling with abuse and addiction should seek treatment before it is too late.

Where Can I Find Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse?

Where Can I Find Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse?

As one of the country's most exclusive and advanced addiction treatment centers, Cirque Lodge is here to help you overcome prescription drug abuse and addiction.

Our unique treatment and recovery services will equip you with the tools, knowledge, and support to maintain sobriety and take back control of your life.

Expert staff designs an individualized treatment plan according to your needs, and our holistic approach ensures that your mental, physical and emotional well-being is considered for long-term success in your recovery journey. By combining the traditional 12-step model with cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and experiential therapy, Cirque Lodge provides the most effective treatment in a serene mountain setting.

Get in contact today to find out how we can help you start your journey to recovery.

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